How to deal with emotional pain.

Unless you are the original Robocop or Terminator or like Stone-cold Steve, you will at some point or another feel pain. Of course, all of us (or should that be most of us) try to avoid pain, but the reality is that it is inevitable. We do our best to hide from its long reach but even the safety-in-numbers strategy offers little protection.

When we think of pain, we often think of physical pain- like a broken leg, a cut finger or worse still, a gunshot to the stomach or a severed hand. Whatever your imagined pain, there remains the often over-looked and destructive pain that many of us do not consider. Heart pain! The pain that comes from a broken heart! I have met many a person who hasn’t healed the wound of a broken heart.

Based on my personal experience and from talking to a few friends, it appears that this COVID-19 lockdown and social distancing is forcing many of us to ask ourselves a variety of questions that were previously easier to ignore. Being in confined spaces, with the same people (or alone) for extended periods teasers out many emotions, thoughts, beliefs etc that might otherwise have remained hidden or suppressed by our busy schedules, phuza-Thursdays and other distractions.

When THOSE PEOPLE (the lay-prophets and social-media sangomas) said that 2020 would be the year of clarity, I doubt that they had in mind that there’d be Rona and the lockdown, who would conspire to force us to draw open the heavy curtains and cause light to invade the darkness in our souls and minds and illuminate the undesirable thoughts, character qualities and emotions within. Surely, for many people, this is a time of being pierced by many pangs.

Perhaps, some of these pains are caused by realisations that a relationship is not what it previously was, or hoped to be; the pain of an impending breakdown; or of realising that your loved one has an alcoholic dependency, or of abusive or that of facing a loss of income.

These are massive issues and some that have dire consequences. However, without diminishing the significance of your issue: what if there was some purpose that you could find to your pain? What if there was some comfort to be found in the midst of all pain, that should ease it somewhat and help you endure it until it subsides?

During the first week of lockdown, I was thinking back to 2005. It was a time when my former girlfriend and future wife ( so I thought) broke up with me to be with another guy. As painful as that 3-hour conversation and the following months were, there were some life-changing decisions that I made that set me up for a good marriage. But before I could make those decisions, to start facing the pain and start healing, there were a few things that I needed to accept/ acknowledge about the pain first. Here are a few of them for you to consider:

  1. If you feel pain, it is not in your best interest to ignore it. You must acknowledge that the pain exists, without falling in the trap of immediately trying to figure out what it means. Acknowledging the pain does not automatically translate into what must be done to treat the pain. These are separate steps in the healing process, which must not be rushed or dealt with concurrently. For me, back in 2005, I had to accept that I was in a sh!tty situation- that I was deeply hurt and betrayed. I did not yet know what it would come to mean in time.
  2. Understand that pain is only an indicator. It helps you to focus your attention on the underlying problem. Pain in itself is not the problem. In my case, my problem was not a broken heart or the pain from it, but the broken relationship. The pain of a broken heart only pointed me to the true problem- the broken state of the relationship and my role in it. Pain nudges towards and sometimes forces us into a time or period of change- a time to rest and recover, a time to reflect and adjust, a time to ponder and decide. My pain only amplified what I had (in retrospect) known already. That things were not right between us. It forced me (in time) to look at my role and learn a few lessons about myself and the mistakes that I had made. It forced me to face up to my own shortcomings and reveal to me how far off the mark I was in relation to the standard of the man that I was becoming.
  3. Understand that pain has a finite role in the situation. Often, however, it will keep visiting if you ignore it. Acknowledge it, feel it as intensely as you need and allow it to lead you through the healing process. But never take its hand. If you take the hand of pain, or worse still, embrace it as a friend, it may never let you go.
  4. Be patient- healing is a process. If you short-cut the process, it becomes like scar-tissue to a muscle, a weak link in the chain, a flaw in character and a snare in the future. Once I understood that pain is part of the healing process, it was easier to endure it because I knew that it would end. The strange thing about fear like the growth process) is that you cannot observe the change day-to-day. You just realise one day that the pain is no more, that the memory that once was sore no longer has an effect. So, be patient.
  5. Know that pain has many unruly friends- anger, resentment, self-loathing, insecurity and many others who lurk in the dark valleys and crevasses through which the path to healing traverses. They will possess you and drag you into inescapable darkness if you allow yourself to lose focus on the journey and befriend them. Cry! Feel! Stumble! Fall and crawl if you must, but do no stop moving forward. As Dory says in Finding Nemo…”just keep swimming”.

Pain has a purpose- its purpose is to save your life. It’s your body’s alarm system that warns you to remove yourself from imminent danger. Do not shun it or ignore it. Acknowledge it, understand its role and commit to the journey of healing, to becoming whole again. It takes courage to be whole.

That 2005 experience has in many ways shaped me, awoke me from some youthful ignorance and offered me an opportunity to gain understanding and wisdom that would serve me well during the nearly 13 years of marriage. Your pain and your situation offer you the same opportunities to define who you are becoming.

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